Los Amigos Invisibles' story is every bit as astounding as their acid-disco stew of techno, merengue and funk. Happenstance has charted their course just as much as raw talent and serious woodshedding. They went from being Venezuela's good time dance band to international sensation, simply because the Talking Head's David Byrne liked their manga-styled album cover and plucked it out of a record bin.
Another chance encounter, this one between Los Amigos' bass player Jose Raphael Torres and Ecuadorian artist/musician Juan Marin, led to the production of La Casa del Ritmo. Learning that the six-member Amigos Invisibles would soon be celebrating two decades together, Marin, formerly of Charlotte-based band La Rua, and his wife, former CL photographer Catalina Kulczar-Marin, brought in director Javier Andrade to document the anniversary. A Kickstarter campaign to raise production funds quickly exceeded all reasonable expectations.
The result is a part-documentary/part-concert film capturing a smoking set at NYC's Highline Ballroom in March 2011. Eschewing Behind the Music melodrama, Andrade wisely lets the individual Amigos speak plainly. A picture emerges of common musical goals forged by distinct and disparate personalities. As the joyous celebration of a Los Amigos Invisibles show is captured, fluid and intuitive camera work recalls Jonathan Demmes' Stop Making Sense, focusing on quirky performance details like the mix of bliss and concentration on drummer Juan Manuel Roura's face, rather than obligatory solo spotlights.
A flurry of adjectives could be used to describe Los Amigos Invisibles distinctive sound, while still missing the mark. Perhaps their signature song, and audience favorite "Esto es lo que hay" comes closest. It translates roughly as "It Is What It Is." Similarly, La Casa del Ritmo takes an organic approach, letting the unlikely tale of the Amigos' idiosyncratic career unfold naturally while depicting them in their most natural and nurturing element — onstage and raising the roof.
Catch Los Amigos Invisibles at the 22nd Annual Latin American Festival at Symphony Park on Oct. 14.